23 June, 2008

Ur errols, let me show u sum moar.

In the headlong rush to buy CFLs - how much of a footprint does it take to MAKE the bastards in the first place?

I haven't yet investigated this - but let's suppose that a filament bulb has a 2000 hour lifespan compared to a 10000 hour lifespan for a CFL of similar light output. (I know they claim to last ten times as long but I haven't seen this kind of lifespan yet. Your mileage may vary...)

Let's pick 60W incandescent which is about an 11W CFL. The incandescent will therefore consume 120,000KWh in its lifespan. The CFL will consume 110,000KWh over it's lifespan. That incandescent (and its replacements, up to four more, possibly) would consume 600,000KWh in the same time span as the CFL. But an incandescent bulb takes very to make. Some silica for the glass, piece of brass for the holder, some resistance wire. Wonder how much of a footprint these old school materials have? I'm betting we've perfected the humble light bulb and it's parts.

Now a CFL lamp has a formed tube, which has to be evacuated and dusted with some quite exotic (and poisonous) material, filled with a specific gas, and then soldered to a circuit board containing around a dozen parts, one of them being a pretty complex little transformer that has to be formed and wound with copper wire. Another is a chip or switching transistor and we're only just beginning to realise how much of a footprint such components have in manufacture, and then in the waste disposal cycle...

Now - another misconception, that by switching to CFL globes we'll save the planet. It's a crock, a misdirection, a way to make you feel as though you're saving the planet. Home lighting accounts for maybe 30% of the home's electricity use, if that. (That's an educated guess, I'm sure you could look up the actual figures online and get six different results, I'm basing this on back-of-the-napkin numbers gleaned from the house I'm in.)

And domestic use is wayyyyyyy under half of electricity use, I forget the exact figure but again it's on record and I'm guesstimating it to 30% again, once again you may find other figures online but I bet they are the same side of 50% as my guess.

You're only using about 1/3 of the electricity you'd have wasted on 1/3 of 1/3 of the power consumption each day, or in other words, saving about 1/27th of the energy bill. But then again, people feel virtuous upon installing nice environmentally friendly globes and tend to leave them on for longer periods, thus using more power... It sort of balances itself.

So I'm not advocating to not use CFLs - after all, we do need to reduce our electricity consumption. Awareness is important, and nothing reinforces that awareness like changing your light bulbs and doing your bit. And the more aware you are, the more likely you are to turn off the TV and stereo at the power point, or the unused ligthing in the office before you go home.

Just keep an eye on ALL sides of the coin and know that whatever we do there will always be a price to pay - just pick your least unacceptable alternative.

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